The Saga of Old Whitey, Fighting Mule of the 12th Corps

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John Hartwell

Major
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Central Massachusetts
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As told by Gen. Thomas L. Casey, U. S. Engineers

General Bartlett’s story in the Globe Democrat of the war dog Jack recalls to my mind the romance of “Old Whitey,” the fighting mule of the Twelfth Army Corps. No one knew where or when Old Whitey was foaled, or by what Jack he was sired, but of one thing all us boys in the Corps were certain: he was cursed by every one.

There was one misty tradition that Whitey was old enough to vote when we had our little unpleasantness with Mexico. It is further asserted -- but for the truth of which I will not vouch -- that he was a lead mule in an ammunition train at the Battle of Buena Vista; that he was where the bullets were thickest at the storming of Monterrey (he was still with the ammunition wagons), that he accompanied Albert Sydney Johnson in his advance upon the Mormons, and that subsequently he worked his way up from Texas, where he was pressed into the Confederate service.

This much, however, we do know that he was a deserter from the Confederate Army, for he had the brand C.S.A. on one of his flanks, broad and deep. The supposition always was with the Twelfth Corps men that the scoundrel broke away from his Confederate corral and swam the Rappahannock for the purpose of fighting some of our mules, which were sending frequent challenges across the river in taunting “Hee-Haws.” Whitey was no sooner discovered in our camp than a , not without exercising great strategy, set him to work.

Like all old soldiers, he hates to work, but how he did love scrub pine and all such cereals that grow in such profusion down in Old Virginia.When everything was quiet about camp and the only sound to disturb the stillness of the night was the ‘ah-there-stay-there’ of the lonely sentinel pacing his beat, Old Whitey would slip the noose from off his neck and go the rounds of the camp seeking for a good, lively “scrap.” Like men who are seeking for trouble, Whitey generally found it, and so violent would be the kicking and loud the screams of the combatants that the camp would frequently become alarmed and the officer of the day would turn out the guard, believing that the enemy was making a midnight sortie upon the camp. If you don’t believe this yarn, ask General McFeeley. He would not deny the story I tell.

But one night old Whitey came near meeting his match. There was a big, seventeen-hand dun mule, belonging to Sickles’ corps, called Dynamite. This mule was a “double-back-action kicker with cylinder attachment and noiseless motion.” One night Whitey ot loose and got into Sickles’ camp and ran up aainst the big dun mule. For a few moments the big dun didn’t seem to be “in it,” but, as they say in the prize ring, “he was game as a pebble, got a second wind, and toed the scratch.” Now the two mules stand on their hind legs and paw and bite and scream and now again as quick as lightning and wheel and stand on their front legs and kick with 2,000 volt power, while a goodly portion of the army stands about cheering them on and betting on the result. Suddenly the dun mule presents hs broadside to old Whitey, when, quicker than thought, the old warrior lands his two feet just over the region of the dun mule’s heart. The dun drops, gasps once or twice, and is dead. Old Whitey walks up and peers cautiously at his old antagonist, as if expecting that it is all a feint. Apparently surprised that his antagonist is done for, he elevates his head, works his huge ears and stumpy tale with increasing velocity, and lets out a “Hee-Haw” of Triumph that never will be forgotten by those who have survived the same.
[Elkhart Daily Review, Dec. 20, 1890]​
 
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John Hartwell

Major
Forum Host
Joined
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Location
Central Massachusetts
In 1910,Gen. James G. Wilson published a long article in The Independent: "Some Stories of Army Mules," in which he includes the above account of Old Whitey (in fact, he rather plagiarized it almost word for word). But adds the paragraph:

Old Whitey was among the stampeding mules that, on the eve of General Hooker’s brilliant battle of LookOut Mountain, broke up a Confederate camp, the Southern soldiers fleeing for dear life under the impression that a body of Union cavalry was charging upon them. Unfortunately, the onset of Whitey and his long-cared companions on the Confederates was not supported, and so the famous fighting mule disappears from the pages of history.​
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Feb 14, 2012
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Central Pennsylvania
Don't you love a good mule? Until you started digging up more ' War Mule ' ( which doesn't have the same ring as ' War Horse ', somehow ) the only really good mule accounts I'd read were from Alcott.

What I can't figure out is how any mule allowed itself to be drawn into the war- they're really really, really smart. You'd have thought they'd have gone en mass to Canada and sat it out.
 
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